From TV Radio Mirror July 1975:
Freddie landed a small part in the School For Performing Arts production of Barefoot in the Park. With that, he knew beyond any doubt he’d found his life's work- and his escape ticket from the ghetto.
The summer before this, when he was 16, getting out of the ghetto had become the most urgent thought in his head. Not that the idea had not always been there. Those sizzling days where spent at the El Greco Leather Products factory in Brooklyn, where his Mother also worked, pressing the manufacturer’s name inside shoes. And with ever label he pressed in, Freddie thought, this is not for me.... this is not for me. He went back to school that fall determined to find a fast way out. And he found it in Barefoot in the Park.
"The character in the script," he recalls, " was a Jewish telephone repairman, Harry Pepper. I changed his name to Jose Perez and did it as a Puerto Rican. I said, hell, that’s what I know. I went out and did it in my mother’s accent and there were roars of laughter from start to finish. It was the first time I had ever thought of myself as a comedian.
At home, Freddie worked up a solo act and soon was trying it out all over town, at clubs like the Bitter End and Catch a Rising Star, where new talent, working for nothing, did their thing hoping to be seen by agents and bookers.
The club Freddie felt luckiest about was the Improvisation Club in midtown Manhattan, on West 44th Street. If anything good was to happen for him, Freddie just knew, it was going to be at the Improv. He was there every night, all night, having by now dropped out of school after his junior year. And they let him go on- in the wee hours of the morning. So he played to empty tables and dreamed of the night they’d let him do his number in "prime time"- between 10 P.M. and 1- when the place was packed. One good shout at that audience, he told himself, is all he needed. Then it would be goodbye, West 157th Street. He’d get out of the ghetto, once and for all, and he’d take his mom and dad with him!
On this particular night he arrived at the Improv early. All he could do was wait- and hope. He decided to wait at the bar. He climbed on a stool and ordered a scotch and soda. Sure, he was underage- only 17- but the bartender didn't know that, he looked older. Time passed. He ordered another drink, then another.
Suddenly someone tapped him on the shoulder. "Hey Freddie, come on , man, you’re on. Prime time!" Freddie looked up fuzzily. On? Now? In prime time? He stood up woozily an followed him backstage.
Out front, in the spotlight, his pal who was the club’s emcee, Jimmie Walker was introducing him to the crowd: "An, now, MY MAIN MAN, MY BROTHER FROM THE GHETTO, BROTHER PRINZE!"
Freddie somehow made his way on to the stage, to the wildly cheering welcome of a house full of revelers- no empty tables this time- most of whom had never seen him perform before. And they loved him- until he opened his mouth. He mumbled, he couldn’t remember his lines, he stumbled about, he could barely stand. Quickly, the crowd’s cheers turned to jeers. They heckled him. Their catcalls grew louder until all their voices mingled into one terrifying refrain that steadily grew more ferocious: "Get off the stage! GET OFF THE STAGE!"
Recapping that dreadful evening, Freddie said recently, quite simply and making no effort to blame anyone but himself: "I started waiting at the bar, getting drunk, and it was the first time the suddenly said in prime time, ‘Go on." And I blew the spot!"
More than that, on this lamentable evening, Freddie Prinze came close to destroying his whole professional future as a comedian, his chance of ever climbing out of the ghetto. IF it hand not been for the kindness of the entrepreneurs of the Improvisation Club, there might never have been a Chico and the Man to make TV viewers look forward to Friday nights.
It took guts for them to risk it, but several weeks after that horrendous evening when Freddie was literally booed off the stage, they allowed him to go on again in prime time.
On this occasion, says Freddie, " I was sober, man, and I stayed on there for one hour and a half! Nobody’d ever dared that before, it was my turning point. I was dy-no-mite; all these managers suddenly wanted me..."